The US House of Representatives has passed a bill (HR2520) by 413 votes to zero that would authorise $79 million of federal funds for the collection and storage of umbilical cord blood. The new Cord Blood Stem Cell Act 2005 was previously passed by the Senate and now goes to President Bush for signature into law. It will establish a network of cord blood banks across the US, for the purpose of Stem cell research and developing treatments for disease. Cord blood is known to contain hematopoeitic progenitor stem cells - also found in adult bone marrow - that have the capacity to treat patients with leukaemia and forms of anaemia, among other diseases.
Last week, Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, blocked an attempt to add a provision to the bill that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. Researchers in the US can currently only receive federal funding for work on ES cell lines created on or before 9 August 2001. Many scientists believe these lines to be inadequate for research, as they were created using mouse 'feeder' cells and s would be unsuitable for human use. Senator Tom Harkin asked for the extension to the bill, but Frist declined, saying that, since the cord-blood bill is popular and will pass easily, while the stem-cell measure is more contentious and will require more debate. Harkin then withdrew the request and the Senate passed an amended version of the bill on Friday. Frist has said, however, that the Senate will hold a vote on the ES cell proposals early next year. When the debate arose earlier this year, however, President Bush said he would veto the bill, if passed.
Meanwhile, the US State of New Jersey has become the first to publicly fund ES cell research. On Friday, a panel awarded $5 million in grants for stem cell research, with three of the 17 awards being for research involving ES cells. The state commission believes that once the money is actually disbursed, it will be the first use of taxpayers' money for such research, even though California passed a bill approving the use of state funds over a year ago. The California effort has been delayed by lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the law.
In January, Codey, acting State Governor of New Jersey, pledged to invest $380 million in ES cell research in the state and, in July, the New Jersey Senate approved, by 21-14 votes, a bill which would allocate $150 million to the construction of a dedicated ES cell research centre. The rest of the money would come from a $230 million bond referendum for research grants, in a similar way to the way the state of California granted ES cell research funding last November. Voters in the state will be asked to cast the decision on this issue in the 6 November ballot this year. Codey, who steps early next year, has said that passing these two initiatives will be one of his main efforts in the time he has left. However, Corzine, who made ES cell research one of the focuses of his electoral campaign, says that he would prefer to pass his own plan for a stem-cell bond referendum of $250 million or more, although he supports Codey's efforts.